Rex Chapman is glad to ‘be on the other side’ of drug and gambling addiction

CNNFormer college and pro basketball player Rex Chapman is now a social media influencer and popular podcaster, but in between those accomplishments, he developed a drug and gambling addiction and was arrested for shoplifting.

“Sports and addiction kind of go hand-in-hand because most people that do anything just really great in this lifetime, no matter what it is … Most of those people have sacrificed a little bit of sanity to get there,” the 56-year-old Chapman told CNN in a recent interview.

The former Charlotte Hornet and Phoenix Suns player’s new autobiography, “It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me,” co-written with CBS Sports’ Seth Davis, covers all of Chapman’s highs and lows.

Some of the stories in Chapman’s book will be familiar to his more than one million social media followers; he writes about debilitating bouts with anxiety and depression and his struggle with an opioid and gambling addiction.


Many revelations though are new. Chapman shares tender passages such as holding teammate Dell Curry’s baby, future NBA superstar Steph Curry, and knowing that he wanted to be a father to a brutally sobering memory of waking up after crashing his car into a ditch during a drug-induced blackout on the way to rehab.

“One day, the pills start telling you when to take it instead of the other way around,” said Chapman. “All of a sudden, you’re not looking at the watch and going, ‘Oh, I should take this again.’ It’s telling you [that] you need it. And now, you’re screwed.”

Chapman traces the start of his problems back to an early struggle with crippling anxiety.
In the book, he details how he once vomited on the court in front of his father Wayne – a former ABA player – and how that one moment led to a career-long habit of throwing up before every game for the rest of his career.

At the University of Kentucky in the mid-to-late 80s, he was known as “King Rex,” but he writes that an interracial relationship he was in was frowned upon by some in the university community, leading to a general malaise about everything and, eventually, panic attacks.

Despite those college challenges, Chapman was a first-round draft pick in 1988 and played 12 years in the NBA.

After what he described as a routine surgery, Chapman developed an opioid addiction and, at one point, was taking up to 50 painkillers a day.

He says the drug addiction was a gateway to a gambling addiction which cost him nearly all of the $40 million he earned during his career.

“It’s on me … I had a huge pride problem, you know, and I know a lot of professional athletes are very stubborn and whatnot,” said Chapman.

“But you know, I wasn’t gonna reach out to anybody. I had plenty of friends I could have told, ‘Look, I’m not doing well, emotionally, mentally …’ Whatever it was, I wouldn’t do that.”


Chapman says he hit rock bottom in 2014 when he was living in his El Camino. After his arrest for shoplifting, he entered rehab three separate times before sobriety stuck. He credits family and friends for not giving up on him.

“I’m lucky to have so many people that I crossed paths with throughout my life. [And that] once I was able to get clean, there were people willing to give me opportunities,” Chapman told CNN.

“I have so many. My family, my sister, my parents, my cousin and close friends from childhood … [I’m] fortunate in that regard because a lot of addicts aren’t as fortunate.”

He considers his book a personal mea culpa in which he takes responsibility and offers insight into his success, his struggles and how he moves forward.

Now that he’s clean, Chapman says he’s dedicated to being a good father to his son and three daughters.

“I struggle just like most people do, I think, but [I’m glad] to kind of be on the other side of the drug stuff and getting to know [my children] as adults, young adults [which] is just amazing. I’m just really fortunate that my kids love me, and they let me know that.”

The book is dedicated to his four children as well as people struggling with drug addiction who he has become an advocate for. If Chapman’s go-to motto is “life is hard,” he believes his journey has been also inherently complex and beautiful.

“Once I finished playing, a good friend of mine, John Lucas, said, ‘You know, every athlete dies twice. Once when they finish playing and then life.’ I didn’t really understand it then, but it’s very true,” reflects the former NBA star.

“It’s Hard for Me to Live With Me” is published by Simon and Schuster and Rex Chapman can be heard weekly on his podcast “Owned” by Smartless Media.